President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday directing his interior secretary to review the designation of tens of millions of acres of land as “national monuments,” an action that could upend protections put in place in Utah and other states as Trump tries to rack up accomplishments in his first 100 days.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the president to declare federal lands as monuments and restrict how the lands can be used.
“The executive order will direct me as the secretary to review prior monument designations and to suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monuments,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters at the White House Tuesday evening.
While Zinke acknowledged criticism that the act has been over-used by past presidents, he insisted he’d approach the topic with an open mind.
“I’m not going to predispose what the outcome is going to be,” he said.
Former President Barack Obama infuriated Utah Republicans when he created the Bears Ears National Monument in late December on more than 1 million acres of land that’s sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.
Republicans in the state said it was an egregious abuse of executive power and have asked Trump to take the unusual step of reversing the designation, arguing it will stymie growth by closing the area to new commercial and energy development. The Antiquities Act does not give the president explicit power to undo a designation and no president has ever taken such a step.
The order is one of a handful the president is set to sign this week as he tries to rack up accomplishments ahead of his 100th day in office. The president has used executive orders aggressively over the last three months, despite railing against their use by Obama when he was campaigning.
Zinke said the order, which Trump signed during a visit to his department, will cover several dozen monuments across the country designated since 1996 that total 100,000 acres or more, from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah to the Bears Ears in southeastern Utah.
He’ll provide an interim report in 45 days in which he’ll provide a recommendation on Bears Ears and a final report within 120 days.
Over the last 20 years, Zinke said, tens of millions of acres have been designated as national monuments, limiting their use for farming, timber harvesting, mining and oil and gas exploration, and other commercial uses.
Though “by and large,” Zinke said, he feels the designations have done “a great service to the public,” he said he worries about overuse and overreach.
“I think the concern that I have and the president has is that when you designate a monument, the local community affected should have a voice,” he said.
Some, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have hailed the order as the end of “massive federal land grabs” by presidents dating to Bill Clinton.
But Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said that if Trump truly wants to make America great again, he should use the Antiquities Act to protect and conserve America’s public lands. In New Mexico, Obama’s designation of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument have preserved important lands while boosting the economy, Heinrich said, a story that has been repeated across the country.
“If this sweeping review is an excuse to cut out the public and scale back protections, I think this president is going to find a very resistant public,'” Heinrich said.
Recent polls have shown strong support for national parks and monuments, said Christy Goldfuss, who directed the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Obama.
Kristina Waggoner, vice president of the Boulder-Escalante Chamber of Commerce in Utah, said business near the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument in southern Utah is booming, driven by sharp increases in tourism since the area was designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
“I’m here today to support the monument and my 3-year-old son,” Waggoner said on a conference call with reporters organized by a pro-Obama group. “Once our land is gone, it’s gone forever.” (AP)
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) released the following statement on President Trump’s executive order instructing the Department of Interior to review national monument designations protected under the Antiquities Act:
“No president has ever called into question any national monument protected under the Antiquities Act until President Trump. His unprecedented executive order threatens decades’ worth of conservation efforts and could potentially revoke designations to places that have significant cultural and historical value – sites like Nevada’s own Gold Butte, and Basin and Range National Monument. The Trump administration fails to acknowledge how vital national monuments and public lands are to our economy. Nevada’s outdoor recreation economy is critical to the state’s economic growth, giving a much-needed boost to our rural communities.
“The Antiquities Act has given presidents the authority to preserve our natural history so that every American, present and future, has the opportunity just as I did growing up to learn about and enjoy our public lands. Nevadans have consistently expressed their support for our monuments and the Antiquities Act and want to see these areas protected for the next generation. I will continue to fight for and protect Nevada’s public lands against President Trump’s continued attacks against our environment, communities, and way of life.”
Today Rep. Dina Titus released the following statement in opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order that calls for a review of all national monuments designated since 1996. The effort could put in the crosshairs Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments while also jeopardizing the Antiquities Act, a law that allows presidents to protect valuable historic, archaeologic, and natural treasurers on public lands.
“This executive order is a blatant attempt by President Trump and Republicans to roll back the work of past administrations to protect public lands. It undermines the efforts of Nevadans who fought for years to protect Gold Butte and other unique natural, cultural, and historical resources like those found at Basin and Range National Monument. This short-sighted effort is a gift to special interest groups and fails to recognize the benefits national monuments provide to our economy and environment.”
Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (NV-03) released the following statement in response to an executive order signed by President Trump to review national monument designations from over the past 20 years
“President Trump has unfairly targeted Nevada once again by signing an executive order that would jeopardize millions of acres of national monuments, including Gold Butte. This would not only roll back years of conservation efforts, but it would have a significant impact on our outdoor economy, which generates more than 1 billion a year in state revenues. I will fight to ensure that our public lands are kept public so that future generations can appreciate Nevada’s natural beauty.”
Representative Ruben J. Kihuen released the statement below following the announcement by President Trump ordering a review of national monument designations:
“By threatening national monument designations that stretch back more than two decades, President Trump is making one thing clear today – he doesn’t give a damn about Nevadans. For years, presidents from both parties have designated national monuments to help protect some of our country’s most beautiful natural treasures, like Gold Butte. Gold Butte’s designation as a national monument was a huge win for Nevada, giving our state the resources and tools we need to safeguard this land. I am deeply disappointed that President Trump has ordered a review of these monuments, that could potentially lead to a loss of status and funding.”
Nevada Conservation League and Battle Born Progress released the following statement:
“This is an attack on the work done by past presidents, both Democrat and Republican, to protect our country’s natural history. It is also an attack on our country’s cultural history. Many monuments including Gold Butte, Bears Ears, or Canyon of the Ancients, were established to protect our history. Instead of destroying the work done to protect our natural legacy, our heritage, and cultural history we should continue to protect the sites that tell the natural and cultural history of America,” said Andy Maggi, Executive Director of the Nevada Conservation League.
“Nevadans support their public lands and legislators here in Nevada are feeling the pressure to ensure our lands are protected and are working in a bipartisan manner to do so. Recently, three pro-public lands bills passed with bipartisan support. AJR 13, expressing support for the Antiquities Act and support for Gold Butte and Basin and Range, passed the Assembly. SB 413 which would establish Public Lands Day in Nevada, passed out of the Nevada Senate and Assembly Bill 277, that will further protect our state’s National Conservation Areas passed the Assembly. This is a stark contrast to what is happening at the national level but we are prepared to protect our lands. We are going to continue defending the lands we’ve already protected in Nevada like Gold Butte and Basin and Range.”
“Protecting our public lands is an American tradition and it is frustrating that right after this administration received yet another defeat on one of their other sham Executive Orders, President Trump and Secretary Zinke are pandering to Bundy sympathizers like Orrin Hatch, Rob Bishop, Adam Laxalt, and Dean Heller with this order that is the direct antithesis of what Nevadans actually want,” said Annette Magnus, Executive Director of Battle Born Progress.
“It’s deeply ironic that late last week, Zinke and the Department of the Interior put out a report on the economic benefits of our public lands, including supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. We expect our entire congressional delegation to stand with the 81% of Nevadans that support our public lands and want to keep their National Monuments. If any of our representatives in Washington D.C. don’t stand with the overwhelming majority of people in their state, Nevadans will hold them accountable in 2018. Antiquities is our heritage. If this is a fight the administration wants, this is a fight we’re ready for, and will win.”
The Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Executive Director Jennifer Rokala:
“President Trump has launched an all-out assault on our national monuments and public lands. He made it clear today that he will eliminate protections for some of America’s most spectacular lands, waters, and cultural sites, opening them up to drilling and mining.
“This action is an affront to America’s public lands legacy, the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy, and the millions of Americans who hunt, fish, hike, and camp in our national monuments. The president is setting himself up for years of legal trouble when he tries to erase protections that ensure public access to America’s lands and waters.”
In response to the President’s Executive Order to review some national monuments, Jaina Moan of the Friends of Gold Butte and Checko Salgado of the Friends of Basin and Range spoke out in defense of Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments.
Tuesday night, the Nevada Assembly echoed these sentiments when it passed a resolution (AJR13) of support for the monuments.
“The Gold Butte National Monument had 15 years of public discourse prior to its designation. Thousands of Nevadans and Americans participated in those conversations and expressed their support for permanent protection of this land via petitions, phone calls to their elected representatives, public meetings and other methods,” said Jaina Moan, Executive Director of the Friends of Gold Butte.
“Gold Butte needed and deserved the national monument designation and the use of the Antiquities Act was appropriate. Gold Butte is truly one of America’s treasures of antiquity.”
“Basin and Range National Monument protected a uniquely American landscape. The pristine valleys and seven ranges included within the monuments boundaries protect important cultural and historic artifacts, vital habitat and surround Michael Heizer’s artwork City,” said Checko Salgado of Friends of Basin and Range.
“City and the outdoor recreational opportunities the monument has to offer attracts visitors from all across the globe. As City nears completion and more people learn about Basin and Range, tourism to the area will increase and diversify the economy in rural Eastern Nevada, which needs the boost.”